A Revolutionary Choice of Words

Rabbi Baars

Who is the first person in the Torah to say “please”?

“Please say you are my sister” (Genesis 12:13).

Those words were said by Abraham to his wife Sarah.

As Rashi, the classic Bible commentator of the Middle Ages points out, please means it’s your choice. If you want to, you can; and if you don’t want to, that’s your choice. It’s not an order.

I want to give you an idea of how earth shattering that first please was.

Let’s do a little brain exercise. One hundred years ago, women could not vote in America. That means a significant number of people thought of women in ways that justified that position. We’ve come a long way in our thinking since then, but I want you to get into the mindset of period for a moment. Are you there? Now keep winding back. How do you think people thought of women 1,000 years ago? OK, now how about in Abraham’s time, around 4,000 years ago?

This will help you get the picture: “And G-d struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues … And Pharaoh called Abraham, and said: ‘What is this that you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife?’” (Genesis 12:17-18).

I want you to appreciate the meaning of what Pharaoh is not saying. It doesn’t even cross Pharaoh’s mind that taking a single women against her will is an issue! He only thinks it is wrong if she is married. This is not an isolated incident, either; we see the same thing occur with Avimelech later in the narrative.

So, for Abraham to ask his wife to please help him is revolutionary. To what is it comparable? Well, it’s sort of like letting women vote. When you do that, you are making the statement that a women’s opinion is worthy enough to shape and direct the country. I know we take this for granted, but imagine a world (100 years ago!) where many felt otherwise.

Revolutions don’t just happen. You don’t just go from thinking people don’t have a voice to thinking they do, unless something major shifts in your consciousness.

“And G-d said to Abraham: Go for yourself” (Genesis 12:1).

In Hebrew, G-d said “Lech lecha,” which commentators explain as, “If you want to, go…”
That was it! G-d, the Supreme Creator, Ruler, Master, Controller of the entire everything, gave Abraham a choice. It was up to him. If G-d, who can command and order, nevertheless wants me to do what I want, then that is how I should treat other people too. If G-d is giving Abraham a choice — in effect, saying “please” — then Abraham understands that that is how he should talk to his wife.

This is the absolute rule of life: How you think G-d treats you will be how you treat others.


By Rabbi Stephen Baars

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